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Undergraduate Students: Additional Changes and Clarifications for Fall Quarter

Dear undergraduate students,

On Friday we shared with you our revised plans for Fall Quarter.

Many of you are upset with the changes we announced and how we announced them. We hope to address your concerns in this email, which will provide new information about admission deferrals, on-campus housing, financial and emergency aid, testing for students living off campus, and a more complete explanation of why we announced these changes Friday.

Expanded Deferral Options

One of the biggest concerns we have heard from first-year and transfer students has been the lack of flexibility to defer. Given all of the recently announced changes, and based on your feedback, we will offer incoming new and transfer students the option to defer each quarter this year to afford students and families flexibility. Incoming new and transfer students who wish to defer Fall, Winter and Spring Quarters can, in effect, defer the entire academic year and still be guaranteed a place for the 2021-22 academic year.

Later in the fall, students will receive information about the process to initiate additional quarter-long deferrals. For now, to delay your enrollment until Winter 2021, please write to by Sept. 5 with “DEFERRAL REQUEST” in the subject line. 

Please note, students who do not begin in the Fall Quarter may find it difficult to make progress in sequence courses, so it is essential to speak with an academic advisor as you consider this decision. Please review the FAQs here for all options and next steps. 

On-Campus Housing

Another concern that we’ve heard from first- and second-year students involves on-campus housing options. As previously stated, first- and second-year undergraduate students should plan to move into their residence halls at the start of Winter Quarter.

First- and second-year undergraduate students who would prefer to cancel their housing contracts for the entire academic year can now do so without penalty. The deadline for canceling without penalty is noon CDT Sept. 4. Cancellation requests must be submitted using the online cancellation form. If you are a first- or second-year undergraduate student with a housing contract and you do not request a cancellation by noon CDT on Sept. 4, we will assume you intend to move into on-campus housing when the residence halls re-open to you. 

As previously announced, third- and fourth-year undergraduate students and graduate and professional students can still live in on-campus housing starting Fall Quarter 2020. Third- and fourth-year, graduate, and professional students will now have until noon CDT Sept. 4 to cancel their Fall Quarter on-campus housing contracts instead of the initial deadline of tomorrow. Cancellation requests can be submitted using the online cancellation form.

Financial and Emergency Aid

A number of you have expressed concern about financial and emergency aid, particularly in relation to our announced 10% reduction in tuition for Fall Quarter. For students who receive financial aid, the amount a family is asked to pay is based on its circumstances, including income and assets. 

If tuition goes up, the amount a family is asked to pay does not rise. If tuition goes down, the amount the family pays does not go down. 

If a family’s circumstances change, and its need increases, the student receiving financial aid can re-file a financial aid application, and lower the amount the family is expected to pay. 

Students who receive financial aid are also eligible for emergency aid. For financial aid students who have new expenses related to travel or technology because of our recently announced changes, we have an emergency fund that can provide help. In the spring, we provided more than $2 million in additional aid to students, and we are prepared to help students again this fall.

Undergraduate financial aid students who would like more information about emergency aid can contact Undergraduate Financial Aid. Emergency funds will be available beginning Sept. 9. 

Testing for Off-Campus Students

We also received many questions about our testing program. To be clear: any student, regardless of class year or housing status for the Fall Quarter, will have access to testing at Northwestern Health Service (NUHS) if they have COVID-19 symptoms or if they are identified as having been exposed through the contact tracing process. Similarly, all students will have access to NUHS for healthcare services throughout the Fall Quarter, including through remote appointments. The changes to the plans for Fall Quarter do not impact access to these services for any students. 

Surveillance testing, for those who do not have symptoms and have not been identified through contact tracing, is intended to provide insight into the virus prevalence in the on-campus community and to detect some cases early before transmission might occur. Surveillance testing will focus on those students approved and planning to be on campus in the Fall Quarter. Students who live in the area but are not approved to come to campus will not be a part of that testing.


We know some were upset with the timing of our announcement – the fact that it was made just days before many of you had planned to move, and the fact that it came late in the day on a Friday. We agree the timing was far from ideal, but the pandemic has continually disrupted our best-laid plans. We are committed to providing updates to you as soon as we have information to convey – including this message.

Our goal has been to return to campus as fully, as quickly and as safely as possible. Up until the end of last week, we remained hopeful that would still happen in the fall for our entire community. 

Unfortunately, a recent increase in COVID-19 cases in suburban Cook County – which prompted the Cook County Department of Public Health to issue a warning Friday morning – along with input from Northwestern Medicine and public health experts, compelled us to switch course. Our modeling indicated that if we allowed everyone to return to campus as planned, there would be a high probability that we would be forced to shut down the University within 7-10 days of move-in.

A big part of our decision-making process has been to make sufficient capacity available in our residence halls to provide quarantine and isolation space for our students living on campus. As the positive case counts began to rise, both in our area and at other universities as they started their academic years, we realized the need to radically change our plans.

Stay connected

Please visit our COVID-19 and Campus Updates website regularly, as it is updated with new information and is home to important FAQs, resources and guidance. You can also connect with our COVID-19 resource center at and 847-467-4111 if you have questions. 

We encourage you to join our next installment of the Return to Campus Discussion Series, today at noon CDT, during which we will discuss the Fall Quarter and many of the issues and questions we have received from the community.

The world and this pandemic are changing daily. We continue to plan proactively to ensure the utmost health and safety of our community. The plans we announced in the last 72 hours could change again as we continue to learn more, observe trends and navigate the return of students, faculty and staff to campus in the weeks ahead. We truly appreciate your patience, your partnership and your understanding.



Morton Schapiro
President and Professor 

Kathleen Hagerty
Provost and Professor

Craig Johnson
Senior Vice President for Business and Finance

Julie Payne-Kirchmeier
Vice President for Student Affairs